Gutenberg is the name of the new WordPress editor that became available in WordPress 4.9. They still consider it beta software at this point.
WordPress 5 will be released soon. Whenever it’s ready, not on a specific date. It’s probably very much tied to Gutenberg’s status. Last I heard, they were targeting late 2018. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they decide to delay it.
Should you be afraid of it? No.
First, you may like it better than the current editor. It’s likely to be a more familiar experience than you think. Facebook, MailChimp and many other web apps use the same underlying technology and visual presentation.
Second, you don’t have to use it. You can install and use the classic editor and completely ignore Gutenberg.
Why a new editor?
- The current editor is over 15 years old. That’s something over 200 in human years.
- Most other web apps have more capable editors. WordPress is falling behind without Gutenberg.
- The current editor has several pain points
- No layout control
- One content section with outdated tools for formatting
- Vertical by design — arranging things horizontally is painful
Will you be forced to use it?
No. It is offered as a preview currently. And even though it will become the default in version 5, the classic editor will be available as a plugin. You can go on editing your posts using the classic editor for the foreseeable future.
Will it wreck old content?
Only if you decide to edit your old content with the new editor. Then you could have some formatting issues. But your old posts will remember which editor they were created with and warn you if you attempt to do something inappropriate.
Will Gutenberg work with your plugins?
Maybe. WordPress is making a significant, breaking change with the new editor. Plugin developers will have to make their own changes to keep compatibility. If they want to continue selling their plugin, they will make the necessary adjustments. Most active plugin developers have committed to compatibility with Gutenberg.
Unfortunately, enough plugins exist that are no longer maintained that you are likely to encounter some that won’t work with Gutenberg. The best thing you can do is check with the plugin’s website and see if they expect to be compatible by the time WP 5 is released.
Security check time
This is a great opportunity to re-evaluate your installed plugins. Are they up-to-date? Do you use them? Is there a better one on the market now? Don’t keep old plugins. If they don’t stay maintained, they become a security hazard. Multiple security reporting outlets claim that over 80% of security vulnerabilities in WordPress are from themes and plugins.
Speaking of themes …
Your theme might work with Gutenberg. If it’s from a reputable developer/designer and they keep it up-to-date, then yes. If not, you have bigger problems than your theme not working with Gutenberg. If it’s not maintained, it has become a security hazard.
Custom themes can be expensive when WordPress updates things. Some coding may be necessary to make your theme compatible with Gutenberg.
Purchasing a pre-existing theme or using one of the actively-maintained free themes makes it much less likely you’ll have theme issues.
Let’s take this opportunity to look at some of the pros and cons of custom themes:
- You get something that looks exactly the way you want
- Additional page templates to suit very specific types of posts/pages
- Additional functionality
- Significantly more expensive
- Changes in WordPress can require you to spend more money on your theme
- You should probably pay for a security audit, too. But you probably won’t, so your theme may have security holes you don’t know about.
- Your developer/designer could be unavailable down the road and finding a new one can be scary and/or challenging
Enough with the pros and cons
What’s different about Gutenberg?
The current/classic WordPress editor is a simple text area where you type your blog post. It has some formatting conveniences like bold, italic and media insertion. But everything is vertical. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that placing things horizontally is quite challenging.
Gutenberg addresses this and other problems by using blocks. Every piece of content in Gutenberg is a block. This paragraph is a block. The heading a few blocks up the page is a block. Images are blocks. You get the picture.
Unlike one text area, blocks can be arranged on the page. They can be styled and sized. This provides quite a bit more flexibility in creating blog posts and pages.
Okay, let’s get Word out of the way
Some people like to compose their blog posts in Microsoft Word, complete with formatting, then copy and paste it into the WordPress editor.
I have read several reports that copying and pasting from Microsoft Word doesn’t work well in Gutenberg. Of course, I’ve heard many stories about crazy problems that resulted from copying and pasting from Word in the old editor, too.
The difference is that Gutenberg reportedly strips the formatting when you paste from Word. I haven’t tried this myself. I don’t own a copy of Word. Can’t think of a good reason to purchase it when LibreOffice does everything I need.
But it’s a good thing if Gutenberg strips formatting from pasted text. Word is one of the worst programs in the history of copy and paste. All sorts of random formatting characters and information are hidden in what you copy from it.
Gutenberg, if really does strip them out, will not put you in a situation where you can’t edit your post without weird issues.
So how do you use it?
How about a video introduction?